Five Best Pieces of Advice My Dad Ever Gave Me
On the occasion of my first Father’s Day as a dad, I’m reflecting on the most important things my dad ever told me. I doubt he would remember saying them, or that they were even meant to be advice. Nonetheless, they stuck. Here are five moments that Dad influenced my life philosophy:
1.) Pay with beer
specific: When the house I grew up in was being built, my folks did whatever jobs they could during the construction. There just wasn’t money to have contractors do everything. They put on the roof and siding. Seven-year-old me helped nail down tar paper. Dad would enlist friends and family sometimes, and when he did he made sure to offer a six-pack.
general: Society assigns money a value, and we can trade it for goods and services, but this creates a weird side effect. If you try to pay for someone to do a task, suddenly that transaction calls into question what that task is worth. Maybe you can’t afford much, but you want to give SOMETHING in exchange for a favor. So you offer what you can… Paradoxically, a small amount of cash might be more insulting than no cash at all. However, spending that same money to make sure a volunteer gets food and drink is respectful indeed.
2.) Befriend the janitor
specific: Dad was a school teacher. He told me that whenever he was assigned to a new building, he would always make sure to introduce himself to the custodial staff, first thing. They know a workspace better than anyone, and they’re not necessarily used to people treating them with much respect. A good friend in a janitorial position will likely solve problems for you at some point.
general: In the entertainment industry, you always hear the advice, “Be nice to the assistants. You never know then they’ll be the boss.” It applies pretty universally. Just be good to EVERYONE. You never know when you might need something. Plus, quid pro quo aside, it’s pretty much just the right way to be.
3.) Remember channels
specific: Around age eight or nine, I’d go with my dad when he’d hunt geese on the bay. He’d point to the little rivulets formed at low tide and remind me that if we cross one of those, we must be very careful to mind the tide. Be too far out when the tide shifts, on the other side of a channel, and you could get trapped and drown.
general: Maybe I’m overapplying this one, but to me staying safe by fully understanding one’s environment applies pretty much everywhere. Investing in the stock market, navigating office politics, taking a pitch meeting… Take your risks only with an eye to shifting “tide.”
4.) Admit ignorance
specific: At least for a few years, I became a teacher myself. Before I started, Dad offered a singular, most-important guideline: If your kids ask you something and you don’t know the answer, don’t try to fake it. Pretend, and kids will smell it. Always, Dad said, admit that you don’t know, and tell the class you’ll look it up and tell them later. Then, most importantly, follow through.
general: Pretty much anything that applies to kids applies to bosses. Managers don’t need you to know everything. Have the answer on their desk in a day or two, and you’ve maintained your value.
5.) Self deprecate
specific: In 3rd grade, I entered the school grade talent show with a ventriloquism act. (Yeah. I’m EVERY kind of nerd.) I was having trouble writing my act, and Dad pointed to Statler and Waldorf (the old guys in the balcony on The Muppet Show.) Sometimes the best way to be funny, he suggested, is to make fun of yourself. I changed my routine to have my puppets insult me. I took second place, losing to a 4th grader who stuffed balloons in her shirt and lip synched 9-to-5 as Dolly Parton, but my act was a hit.
general: The nice thing about mostly picking on yourself is it allows you more easily to live by item #2 above.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!